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Monthly Report: December 2013

One last Monthly Report to fill out the last bit of 2013. A solid group of movies of different types, with both some strong showings and some disappointments. As usual.

I’m hoping to get my annual year end awards post up within the next few days, so if you’re waiting for that one, just hold on for a little bit longer.

Happy new year, by the way!

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
Few people can make movies that are as great to just listen to as Baumbach does. Frances Ha is no exception. More grounded and “real” than his usual collections of strange characters, this is a fun look into the life of a woman struggling to fit into her own idea of life. Greta Gerwig is great in the lead, while the script is smart and oddly touching.
4/5

One Last Thing (Alex Steyermark, 2005)
A teenager with cancer tries to get a date with a supermodel he fancies before he dies. This is a frustrating movie. The tone set by the awful poster is not indicative of what the film tries to be. The beginning is promising, as I found myself thinking “Oh, this is one of those movies that’ll be smarter than what it looks like at first glance.” It isn’t, though it certainly tries to be. It’s just kind of poorly put together. The actors do decent enough work – I particularly enjoyed Cynthia Nixon‘s turn as the mother – but there’s not enough time for the characters to get fleshed out enough for what the story tries to pull off with them. The film takes narrative shortcuts, skipping scenes that, while not crucial to understand what’s going on, are necessary from an emotional standpoint. There’s too much half-baked focus on religion and spirituality, and the climax just felt messed up to me. I wanted to like this film, but there’s too much getting in the way.
2/5

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Trust (David Schwimmer, 2010)
I wonder why this didn’t garner more Oscar attention for its actors, as it’s exactly the kind of “big” acting AMPAS usually loves. Just the wrong time and place, I suppose. The main trio (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Liana Liberato) are all great, and the film has its emotional priorities straight. An interesting look at both how a young girl copes with sexual assault, and how her parents react. Strong movie.
4/5

Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom & Kimberlee Acquaro, 2011)
This is a documentary everyone ought to watch. It’s not perfect by any means – tons of talking heads, some repetition, more of a light-shiner than a solution-finder – but the subject of female representation in media is a vital one that more people need to get into. And this is a good movie, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been thinking and reading about things like this for a while now, and this film still had a good deal of new insight in store for me.
4/5

Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989)
Strictly speaking not a new watch, as I have seen it one a great many years ago. I didn’t remember much of anything about it though, so whatever. It’s easy to come down hard on this one due to the existance of the original Ghostbusters. The first one is indeed superior in every imaginable way, mostly thanks to sharper dialogue and that whole “originality” thing. The sequel doesn’t bring much new stuff to the table, but it does have its moments, and Bill Murray as Peter Venkman remains a very fun character. It makes the passing grade – if not by a huge margin – but there’s no reason to watch it when you could be watching the 1984 movie.
3/5

(A)sexual (Angela Tucker, 2011)
Solid doc on asexuality, a subject which I knew very little about before seeing this film, learned a lot about through seeing it, but was left with a lot of questions afterwards. The movie is short, clocking in at 75 minutes, and I feel like they could have gone deeper without sacrificing pacing. Some of the stuff that was included felt a bit fuzzy too, like the whole “multiple quasi-romantic relationships” thing. Still, a movie that lets me learn new stuff, and does so in a well put-together manner, deserves credit.
3/5

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His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
The rapid fire dialogue took some getting used to, but this turned out to be a really funny movie with a bit of an edge to it. I wouldn’t mind watching more stuff like this.
4/5

Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011)
Obvious but harmless.
3/5

Inseparable (Dayyan Eng, 2011)
Chinese movie in which a guy attempts suicide, only to get interrupted by a strange dude (played by Kevin Spacey, intriguingly enough) who tries to get his life back on track. Naturally, this involves becoming a superhero. There’s a bit more to this story that what first meets the eye, but while it’s all handled fairly well, there’s little here that hasn’t been done before in films like Defendor, Special and Kick-Ass. The addition of Spacey to the otherwise largely Chinese cast is ultimately more of a distraction than anything, even though he of course puts in a fine performance.
3/5

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)
Wheatley’s follow-up to the intriguingly baffling Kill List offers a similar sense of bizarre and Britishness, but blends it with some down-to-earth comedy. The thick mood is still present too, offering a sense of things just being really off. It’s the stand-out quality of the film, but the acting is nothing to scoff at either. Wheatley makes films like few others.
4/5

Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl, 2012)
Middle age woman goes on vacation to Kenya hoping to find a man, at least for a night or two. The subject matter is of course uncomfortable, so this is not what you’d call an enjoyabe viewing experience. The film does get its points across though, and the acting is solid. Very European.
3/5

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Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
The man who brought Primer to the world returns with an equally confusing but far less entertaining film. I have no idea what this one was even about, and I couldn’t wait for the credits to start rolling. The sound was good though, I’ll give it that.
1/5

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)
It looks good, and there are enough cool action scenes to bring the score up to a passing grade. You pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into with a film like this. But man, this trilogy is really starting to run out of steam. Stretching out the relatively modest-length novel to three movies was worrisome enough, but then they have to stretch out each individual installment too just to make it “epic”, and it’s beginning to show some tearing. There is quite a bit of padding, many scenes just run way too long, and the flow of the story is bumpy indeed. At this rate, I’m not even sure I’ll be going to see the closing chapter next year. Also, fuck Legolas.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 13
Average score: 3.2 / 5
Best film of the month: Frances Ha
Worst film of the month: Upstream Color

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Posted by on 2 January, 2014 in Monthly Report

 

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14 actors I really dig

There’s a bit of a meme going on in Swedish film blogging circles. The idea is simple: list your seven favorite male and female actors. I’m participating too, although loosely. I’m not saying these are my very favorites, as that tends to change from day to day and I might have forgotten someone. These are, however, seven men and seven women whose work I really enjoy, either because they constantly deliver great performances, or because they possess some hard-to-define quality that makes my brain happily go “ding!” whenever I spot their names on a cast list.

First, some honorable mentions…

Kevin Spacey: Had I written this post 10 years ago, he’d be a shoo-in for sure. Alas, he hasn’t had many truly great roles lately.
Kirsten Dunst: She has been underrated ever since she lit up the screen in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, and only recently has she started getting the critical acclaim she deserves.
Al Pacino: Another one whose heyday is behind him, Pacino has tons of maniacally energetic performances on his CV.
Rosario Dawson: Effortlessly charming, possibly the hottest woman on this planet, and probably with her best work still ahead of her.
Jason Statham: The bona fide action star of the millennium.
Ellen Page: At 25 years of age, she has already amassed a number of impressive lead and supporting roles. What does the future hold for her?

On to the list proper. This is in randomly generated order.

MV5BMTMzODkzOTU4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU0ODE5NA@@._V1._SX640_SY920_Catherine Keener

When I watch Keener play one of her evil characters, I can not imagine here ever being good. When I watch her play one of her good characters, I can not imagine her ever being evil. Her impressive range is perhaps her strongest quality and she has proven to only get better with age. When she got her first Oscar nomination for playing manipulative seductress Maxine in Being John Malkovich, she was already 40 years old. Since then – and before – she has kept putting in affecting performances no matter how small or large a part she plays.

3 great performances
Living in Oblivion – pulling off the difficult task of acting like you’re acting, both badly and well.
Being John Malkovich – toying with John Cusack with equal measures of bitchy and funny.
An American Crime – playing one of the most despicable abusive mothers in recent history.

Anthony_Hopkins_0001Anthony Hopkins

While there is a lot to be said for physical transformations and chameleon actors who are nigh-unrecognizable from one film to the next, perhaps even more impressive is someone like Hopkins. He always looks more or less the same, and yet he disappears into roles like few others. A master of mannerisms, body language, and voice, Hopkins portrays clearly defined characters utterly convincingly. Never one to turn down a paycheck, he appears in many films that might not make full use of his talents, but you will never see him slumming it or sleep-walking through a role. Hopkins always delivers.

3 great performances
The Silence of the Lambs – somehow making a mere 16 minutes of screen time into the one thing people associate the film with.
The Remains of the Day – redefining “emotionally restrained”.
The World’s Fastest Indian – completely inhabiting a man jovially dead-set on accomplishing his dream.

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Posted by on 18 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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50 MORE Things I Love About Films

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post called 100 Things I Love About Films on my old blog, which I later reposted here at A Swede Talks Movies. This is the sequel, adding 50 more things to the original 100. I’ve tried to avoid repeating movies and actors I mentioned in that first post, though a few have slipped through anyhow.

Credit for the original concept goes to Beau Kaelin. Thanks also to gentleman and scholar Travis McClain for bringing the idea to my attention. The original description:

Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies.  I dig the concept, because instead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are “objectively good enough” to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends. Just read below and you’ll get the idea.

Why only 50 this time instead of 100? Because… quality over quantity? Yes. Let’s go with that.

1. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, the fear and agony on her face raw enough to make me gasp in sympathy.

2. The wonderfully trashy dialogue in Bitch Slap. I love the fact that someone actually put the words “Lube my boob, skank twat” to paper.

3. Natalie Portman‘s joy-stricken face when she phones her mother from the bathroom stall in Black Swan.

4. Michelle Williams‘ dorky dance in Blue Valentine.

5. When actors produce their own films, showing a real desire to have the movies made.

6. The brief cameo by Jason Statham reprising his role from The Transporter at the beginning of Collateral. Crossover stuff of that nature should happen more often.

7. The 20th Century Fox fanfare.

8. Robin Williams capping off his love declaration in The Fisher King with the words “But I still don’t drink coffee”.

9. The shot of the sugar lump in Three Colors: Blue.

10. Watching Casablanca for the first time and finally getting some context for all the well-quoted lines of dialogue. “Round up the usual suspects” put a big smile on my face.

11. Penelope Cruz performing A Call From the Vatican in Nine. I don’t mean to sound crass, but… hubba hubba.

12. The chase sequence through the construction site in the 2006 Casino Royale.

13. The Remains of the Day lunch box in Waiting for Guffman.

14. The whole sequence with the trunk in The Ice Harvest. Great mix of tension and humor.

15. Kat Dennings trying to pronounce Mjölnir in Thor. “What’s Myeh-myeh” indeed.

16. Danny DeVito trying to look scary to John Travolta in Get Shorty.

17. Sven Nykvist‘s gorgeous cinematography in Persona. I’ve never seen black & white look better.

18. Mark Ruffalo‘s “Why the fuck did I just say that?” grimace after stating that he loves lesbians in The Kids Are All Right.

19. Speaking of Ruffalo: The Hulk in The Avengers. Every awesome second of him.

20. When a movie just leaves me completely baffled about whether I like it or not, or whether it even matters. It’s annoying too in a way, but I love how it questions the very idea of why I watch films and what I take away from them. Funny Games would be a recent example of this kind of movie for me.

21. The ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Teriffic execution of a sequel hook.

22. Those performances that become so utterly convincing that my brain eventually has to break me out of the trance by going “Uh, Emil, you do know that this is an actor playing a character, right? It’s not a real person.” And then I go “Shut the fuck up, brain.” A recent example: Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story.

23. Seeing an actor I’ve never heard of before in a film and immediately wanting to find out what else they have been in since they’re so good.

24. The climax of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, a sequence that tops anything else in either of Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock films.

25. Tippi Hedren waiting outside the schoolhouse in The Birds. Cue me gasping for breath and muttering “Oh shit…”

26. Kirsten Dunst looking stunning in the wedding dress in Melancholia.

27. Hugo reminding me that 3D can indeed be used to great effect. Thank you, Martin Scorsese.

28. Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Absolutely jaw-dropping.

29. The scene in 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes in for surgery and suddenly realizes that he might never wake up again.

30. Michelle Duncan‘s adorable Scottish accent in Driving Lessons.

31. This exchange in The Fugitive: “I didn’t kill my wife!” “I don’t care!”

32. The opening of Grave of the Fireflies. It’s good on the first watch, but it’s heart-breaking on a rewatch.

33. The lone penguin wandering off towards the mountains and certain death in Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World.

34. The dream-like atmosphere of Robert Altman‘s Images. The kind of stuff that makes you realize how inaccurately the term “dream-like” tends to get thrown around.

35. Ellen Page in Juno. And Jennifer Garner. And Jason Bateman. And Allison Janney. And J.K. Simmons. And everyone else.

36. ))<>(( from Me and You and Everyone We Know.

“What business is it of yours where I’m from… friendo?”

 

37. The tense scene in No Country for Old Men where Javier Bardem makes the gas station attendant call a coin flip.

38. Seeing a scene that for some reason doesn’t work for me, only to much later have a revelation on what it meant. Guaranteed to make me love the part next time I watch the film.

39. Everything about Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich, but particularly her dismissive reactions to everything John Cusack says and does in the early goings.

40. Uggie playing dead in The Artist.

41. The meet-cute between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent at the costume party in Beginners.

42. This poster for 127 Hours.

43. The entire showdown between Uma Thurman and David Carradine in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Had me at the edge of my seat when I first watched it.

44. The very recognizable video game scene in Swingers.

45. Brad Pitt‘s ridiculous accent when speaking Italian in Inglourious Basterds.

46. The suffocating atmosphere of Seven.

47. The big fight on the rope bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

48. George Clooney‘s fine-tuned and low-key performance in The American.

49. Robert Downey Jr. sucking at math in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

50. Shea Whigham‘s brief part in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, repeatedly uttering “Whoa!” in the funniest fashion.

 
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Posted by on 22 May, 2012 in Lists

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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